Given that Nothing But Thieves’ debut album was the first write-up I contributed to a former rock reviews site, it’s only fitting that I put pen to paper about their frontman Conor Mason’s first material from his side project. Under the Man-Made Sunshine monicker — which must’ve posed such a strong pull that it was used for the EP’s title, too — Mason’s vocals are as ever-captivating, but the music gets tangential.
Ultimately, it’s good news for fans of the slower, more reflective NBT offerings, such as ‘Particles’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Honey Whiskey’. On this five-piece collection, you get a medley of button-pressing and surging electronics — especially on the opener — alongside token keys and soft-as-butter guitars forging the instrumental core.
It’s as though Mason morphed into a Justin Vernon/James Blake hybrid but retained his own pipes; it sounds warmly familiar yet it’s an enjoyable departure. ‘Brain In A Jar’, the initial tune, is like a whole new philosophical theory designed to test the listener. It transports them from comfortable NBT territory and eases them gently into this more cushioned environment sans quintessential rock sensibilities. And it’s got some smart, built-up electronics as well.
This year’s been one for sad bops from solo artists, and that notion is evidenced here. There’s a wholesomeness to the simplicity of the EP in the main. But it’s also noticeably explorative, so it has all the right qualities that beg for it to be played again — and, in the case of ‘Big’, quite a few times, actually. It’s the prevailing earworm for me, with the popular-streamer ‘Life’s Gonna Kill You (If You Let It)’ ranking second. ‘Little Bird’ and ‘Rosebud’ are much slower and stitch together the standouts harmoniously.
I’d be eager to hear what else comes from Conor Mason in due course. But in the interim, be sure to give this a whirl, because it’s rather grand indeed.